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What is expected from Leaving Certificate students in their French oral examination?
Here are a few tips divided into the four sections of the marking scheme.
Pronunciation (20 marks)
• Before the exam, read your notes out loud, record yourself, practise with a friend: get your body used to pronouncing sounds that do not exist in English, particularly u, r and the three standard nasal sounds (an/en, on, in/un).
• Do not pronounce the final –e in verbs and drop the final, silent –t, -d, -s, -x, -p, -ds, and -ts when necessary (i.e. most the time!)
• Do remember however the compulsory “liaisons”, when you must run an otherwise silent final consonant into the first vowel or h of the next word. A few useful examples include: “mes_amis”, “mon_anniversaire”, “les_installations”, “des_enfants”, “trois_heures”, “très_intéressant”…)
• Distinguish between “un” (nasal sound) and “une”.
Vocabulary (20 marks)
• You must be able to talk about many personal subjects, so it is important that you learn the relevant vocabulary and prepare things to say about your birthday, personality, family, school, subjects, area, house, hobbies, friends, holidays (past and future, including Easter holidays), weekends, transition year, future career, future studies, part time job, pocket money…
• In addition, you might be requested to discuss more abstract themes, such as social networking, alcohol, smoking, drugs, or at least be able to say “je suis désolé(e), je ne sais pas grand-chose à ce sujet.”
• Vary your vocabulary; for instance, when giving your opinion, you can use different, synonymous phrases: “je pense que…”, à mon avis…”, “j’estime que…”, “je crois que…”
• Avoid inappropriate slang phrases/words such as “fringues”, “on s’éclate”, “bourré”, “biture”, “vachement” etc., as the Syllabus specifies that you must be aware of language registers in French.
Structures (30 marks)
• The minimum is to be able to conjugate your verbs in the present, passé composé and futur simple. Focus on the “je” form, as it will be of more use than the other persons. The examiner HAS TO ask you questions in these three basic tenses to give you the opportunity to demonstrate your grammatical skills.
• Practise your verbs in the negative form too: je voyage, je ne voyage pas, j’ai voyagé, je n’ai pas voyagé, je voyagerai, je ne voyagerai pas…
• Spot the tense used by the examiner in each question and adapt it to the “je” form in your answer. For instance: Q. “Vous aimez..?” A. “Oui, j’aime…” Q. “Vous avez vu..?” A. “Oui, j’ai vu…”
• Do not mix up “c’est” (it is) and “il y a” (there is/are).
• When mentioning someone’s age, use the verbe to have : “j’ai 17 ans”, mon frère a 20 ans”. Using to be is a mistake which will be particularly harmful to your performance as the age question comes in the first few minutes of the exam and will therefore be more memorable to the examiner.
• Try using a few phrases in the subjunctive, such as “pas autant que je sache”, il faut que j’obtienne 550 points”, “à l’école, il faut qu’on soit à l’heure”.
Communication skills (30 marks)
• Remember to say “bonjour Madame” ou “bonjour Monsieur” when you arrive and “Merci, au revoir!” as you leave. NEVER EVER say “tu” in your oral exam, use “vous”.
• If you have made a mistake, “erase” it by correcting yourself and say “pardon!”
• If you did not understand a question, avoid saying “je ne comprends pas” or “je n’ai pas compris”. Instead, say “pardon?” so that the examiner will not be sure whether you did not understand or did not hear what they asked…
• If you have brought a document, know that it is YOUR responsibility to make sure that the examiner does not forget to ask you about it. Examiners seldom start with the document and are therefore more likely to forget about it.
• You must develop your answers without the examiner having to ask a lot of questions, but they will interrupt you to make sure that you are not reciting.
• Try to sound spontaneous: start some of your answers with phrases such as “alors,”, “bon,” “eh bien,” and appropriately insert short sentences such as “c’est vraiment intéressant”, “c’est ridicule”, “c’est terrible”, “c’est très important” in your developed answers.
• Speak at a “normal” speed (not too slow, not too fast) and avoid saying “er…” or “like” mid sentence.
• Know how to redirect the conversation: Q. “Que pensez-vous de Facebook?” A. “Je suis désolé(e), je ne m’intéresse pas à Facebook. Par contre, j’adore le sport…”
Best of luck to all Leaving Certificate students in their French and Irish oral tests!
Valérie (BA, higher diploma, Maîtrise/Master 1, Master 2) was appointed by the State Examinations Commission as a Leaving Certificate oral examiner on several occasions and is the Leaving Certificate coordinator at Alliance Française de Cork. She has recently published part of her research on second language acquisition in the peer-reviewed journal Les Langues modernes and has presented a paper on the current importance of the French language in Ireland at the IIèmes Assises du français conference organized by the University of Algarve and the APEF in December 2014.